The number one logical step after collecting in your harvest is to store it for optimum use. Some of it might be dried; some canned, while some of it might be distributed to family and friends around. However, the one way to reuse vegetables later, in its almost fresh form, is the method of freezing. Freezing is nothing other than storing food in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator, following simple storage guidelines, and where the temperature of the freezer is maintained below 0 degree Celsius.
Freezing is one of the simplest ways to preserve food. It neither is a long-drawn process like canning, with the use of the pressure canner or the water bath, nor is it time consuming like the process of drying or using dehydrators. Freezing makes use of hot, bubbled water for the purpose of blanching, and airtight packets, jars or plastic containers for storing in the freezer.
In order to freeze vegetables, identify your freezer-friendly vegetables. Generally, water-rich vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce are not ideal for freezing. When water is present in food meant for freezing, it expands and literally damages the food, preventing it from being edible later. Most other vegetable can be stored by freezing.
Freezing is done to preserve food over long periods of time; or in technical terms, to increase the shelf life of the food. Vegetables are perishable items. When they are at room temperature, they become useless for human consumption in about a week, as a rule. In order to store food and to preserve a bulk harvest of home gardening, the method of freezing is adopted.
Blanching is done to stop the growth process or the vegetable and to prevent enzyme action on the food that will otherwise affect the quality, texture and color of the vegetables.
Prepare vegetables by washing, peeling, husking, de-silking, shelling or trimming. Cut to size and discard unusable portions. Set a pot of water to boil. When the water bubbles, place vegetables in the hot water and bubble for a short period of time.
* Blanching time of vegetables in minutes:
Cabbage = 1.5
Peas and black eyed beans = 1 to 2
Pod peas and greens = 2 to 3
Asparagus, Beans, Lima = 2 to 4
Summer squash, Turnips, Parsnip, Carrots, *Cauliflower = 3
String beans, Brussels sprout, Okra = 3-4
Corn = 4-5
* Cauliflower and broccoli have to be treated first before blanching. Place cauliflower florets in salt water for 30 minutes before blanching. This will help remove insects and insect larvae that might be in the florets.
After the vegetables are par-boiled, transfer them to cold water immediately to stop the cooking process. Cool and drain immediately.
Some vegetables may be fried instead of blanching, but as a rule, blanching is the more favorable option of the two.
Pack vegetables in containers, jars or packets. Allow about half an inch of space at the top to allow expansion of food. Seal air tight. Label each container, jar or packet with the vegetable name, date of manufacture and if possible, Best Before or Expiry Date.
Some vegetables can first be frozen (spread) on a tray, before being packaged.
Store in a freezer with ample space. Freezer temperatures should remain constant.
To use these frozen vegetables, thaw the container first instead of digging into it to get pieces of vegetables out for use. Digging in could damage the vegetables.
Frozen vegetables are ideal for stir fires and for times of emergency-cooking when a guest might arrive. With a bit of effort, the chilled vegetables in the refrigerator may be stored in the freezer for prolonged use.
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